Victoria lives aboard her sailing vessel with her husband and two young children, the realization of a dream she and Tucker have had for many years. She expected that once she was on her boat, anywhere she sailed would be—and feel like—home. But on a weekend excursion down the coast to Monterey, she was surprised to find herself homesick for their little slip in the San Francisco Bay, which led her to reflect on the nature of home.
Maggie is three months into a year-long trek around the world. Her most recent stopover is Bulungula in South Africa, where she seems to feel a strong connection to both the geography and the culture. “And, of course, there’s that lovely backdrop — scenery that stuns the eyes, holds the heart and inspires you to leave your own home behind,” she writes. “Yes, I could live here.” She doesn’t say, “This feels like home,” but rather that she could “leave her own home behind” and “live here.” Is there a difference?
Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss talks about the phenomenon of travelers for purposes of business or study—anthropologists, reporters—“going native,” that is, abandoning their professional objectivity and the home of their birth to immerse themselves in an adopted culture. How does one know home when they find it?
I grew up a Navy Brat. We moved about every three years. All of our moves were in the United States, and I’ve only left the country once when I went to Toronto with my high school band. I’ve never even had a passport. All during my childhood, I had a craving for “home.” The thought, “I want to go home,” would come to me, but upon further reflection, I could never identify where home was. The closest to home I felt growing up was when we’d visit my maternal grandparents in Ohio each year. Their home was a central gathering place for my mother’s seven siblings and their children. Everywhere we went, I was surrounded by people related to me. In the town where my parents grew up, it seemed cousins of various degrees were everywhere. Grandma and Grandpa had a garden, and even now I think of them when I work with my own tomato plants. There was a spooky basement with an old refrigerator that was always filled with glass bottles of pop, that, when empty, we would return to the grocery store for money in what seemed a kind of alchemy. There were pickled eggs in large jars, grape juice that we drank out of jelly jars, hulless popcorn, late-night horror films on TV, and the tandem bike I rode with my aunt. In the summer, we’d watch the Fourth of July parade come by the house, and we’d collect the candy they tossed from the fire truck before we walked up to the high school for the carnival. One year I won a goldfish by tossing a ping pong ball into a small fish bowl.
When Grandma died, this all began to change. Then Grandpa sold the house, and there was no longer a central meeting place. The close-knit feeling of the family faded, as did my sense of home. For years, I’ve still felt the “I want to go home” sensation, but it’s not been connected to any particular place. As adults, my husband and I continue to move every few years, trying out different locations, looking for home. I’ve lately come to fear that the looking has become such a habit that I won’t even recognize home when I find it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to dream of Ohio. In my dreams, it is home. It is the place I’m longing to be. I see the rolling, green hills of northeast Ohio and yearn to belong to them. When we visit, I love driving out into that farmland and imagining a little house amid those green hills. But I wonder if it would still feel like home if I actually lived there. When I was in college there, I couldn’t wait to leave. I hated it there. I couldn’t stand the overcast skies, the decay of the post-Industrial Revolution, the culture of depression and helplessness. It feels different looking at it now from a couple thousand miles and a decade away. Is Ohio truly my home, and I could only recognize it by leaving? Or if I lived there now, would it soon feel as oppressive to me as it did when I was 20? How long would it be before I went in search of my next home?
I have a suspicion that my longing for home isn’t actually a longing for a particular place, but rather a longing for a feeling. This feeling is one of belonging and of being loved unconditionally. It’s an escape from the alienation I often feel as someone who is carving her own path through the world. I made an off-hand remark to my husband last night: If you’re going to rock the boat, you’d better not get sea sick. Even though I have a consistent need to rock the boat, I seem to experience perpetual seasickness. I want to find my sea legs. I want to be myself but still feel like I belong. Even more than happiness, I want to feel wholeness. I suspect that this feeling is something I need to come to on my own, and if I don’t find it, no place is going to feel like home.